Hebridean Island Cruises

Cruising Scotland for the fifth time! Hebridean Island Cruises does it again!

We’ve got spirit! Yes, we do!

It’s hard to believe that less than 24 hours ago, I was still aboard Hebridean Princess enjoying the last precious moments of coddling that keeps Bill and me coming back to Scotland again and again. We just spent eight glorious nights aboard the tiny luxury ship. The cruise, which originated in Invergordon and ended in Oban, was fully booked. That means there were 47 other passengers sharing this experience with Bill and me. I like to think of the Princess as the anti-mega ship. I’ve got no use for huge floating cities so popular these days. Give me a little vessel with lots of good food, flowing champagne, superb service, beautiful scenery, and like-minded guests.

Bill and I decided to book our cruise in April of this year. Because Hebridean Princess is an all inclusive luxury experience with matching luxury prices, we usually plan much further in advance. Because we booked just four months out, I got us a “cheap” room on the Hebridean deck, in the “bowels” of the ship. Each stateroom on Hebridean Princess is named after a special place in Scotland. I knew what to expect, since we always book the “cheap” rooms. To date, we’ve stayed in all three of the double sized “cheap” rooms: Loch Torridon (three cruises), Loch Crinan (one cruise), and Loch Harport (one cruise). I’m hoping to upgrade us to a higher deck the next time we cruise, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with the “cheap” rooms. They are very comfortable, even though they lack windows or portholes and require a steep climb up and down stairs. At age 47, I was still among the youngest of the passengers and, at least for now, my knees can take the abuse.

We began our trip on the second of August, flying from Frankfurt to Edinburgh. This was the first time I’ve ever managed to score direct flights to and from Scotland. Although Frankfurt is an incredibly obnoxious airport, living close to it does have its advantages. We could have flown to Inverness, but that would have required a layover. I had never been to Inverness before this trip, but I’d heard it wasn’t all that exciting. I also wanted a “do-over” of Edinburgh, which we last visited in 2012 after our first Hebridean experience– two back to back five night cruises in November, during which we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.

We loved Edinburgh when we visited for four nights in 2012, but our time there was shrouded in sadness. On our last night of the second cruise, we learned that our sweet dog, MacGregor, had collapsed at the dog hotel. Unbeknownst to us, he had a highly aggressive malignant tumor invading his spinal column. Before we left for Scotland, we had been led to believe that he’d had a much less serious condition. We’d had him on prednisone and he was being weaned off, when the tumor suddenly got worse.

The hotel staff took MacGregor to see his vet, who suspected he had a malignant tumor and had recommended euthanasia. We were thousands of miles away and there was nothing we could do but worry. However, the situation was not so dire that we needed to rush back to North Carolina, where we lived at the time. The vet loaded MacGregor up with painkillers and the dog hotel staff took excellent care of him. We finished our vacation, came home, and took MacGregor to North Carolina State University, where he eventually had a MRI that confirmed the vet’s diagnosis. We said goodbye to him on December 18, 2012.

Anyway, because our first visit to Edinburgh was marred by personal tragedy, we decided to go back this year. I’ll go more into detail in the next post, but let me just comment that next time, I’m going to check the calendar more closely before I decide on pre-cruise cities. Edinburgh was teeming with people who had come to to the annual Fringe Festival. It started on the day of our arrival and made the city even crazier than usual! I’m surprised we managed to get a hotel room! I’m glad we were able to experience the festival, but I think I prefer Edinburgh in November, when the city is not so crowded.

We took ScotRail to Inverness on August 4th and spent one night at the lovely Rocpool Reserve Hotel. In retrospect, I wish we’d come directly to Inverness. It’s a very charming city and I would have liked to have spent more time there. If we ever do another cruise out of Invergordon, we’ll suffer the layover required to get to Inverness. It deserves to be explored.

Our cruise began on August fifth and ended yesterday morning. As I finish this post, I realize that it’s still been less than 24 hours! How am I going to get used to life without my daily dose of champagne? Writing helps me prolong the joy. I hope you’ll join me as I digest our latest spectacular trip to Scotland!

Part two


Yet another Scottish whisky cruise…

Well, we finally did it.  We booked another proper vacation, the first one we’ve had since September 2017, when we visited Scotland the last time and cruised to Northern Ireland.  A lot has happened since that cruise occurred, although there have been a few things that are still the same.  For instance, we now live in Wiesbaden instead of Unterjettingen… but lingering issues that actually occurred right around the last time we were on the Hebridean Princess conspire to keep us connected to our old stomping grounds near Stuttgart.  That, and we kept our dentist down there.

Anyway, lately I’ve been feeling a bit crabby about life in general.  I will be the first to admit that everything that troubles me is, for the most part, a first world problem.  I still need a break sometimes.  So does Bill.  So in the past few days, we decided to book our vacation for 2019.  We gave some thought to going on a French barge cruise, which I’ve been wanting to do for ages.  But when we called about the specific one we were considering, we were told it was fully booked for when Bill had time off work.

I also want to go to Armenia… but Armenia in August is not the best idea, even though it looks like they are now embracing air conditioning.  It’s really hot there in the summer.  I’d rather go in late September or October.

So that led us to Hebridean Island Cruises again.  Although I’ve had a mishap every time we’ve been on that ship, it still remains my favorite of the ships I’ve tried so far.  It costs a mint to get onboard, but once you’ve paid, you’ve paid.  On four previous cruises, we’ve never had a bill at the end of the voyage.  And the voyage we booked is one that will take us to parts of Scotland we haven’t yet seen.  It will start in Inverness, when the coach picks us up and takes us to Invergordon.  Then, we’ll sail to Wick, through the Orkney Islands, and over the top of Scotland back to Oban eight nights later.

The cruise departs on August 5, 2019, so we had to pay for the whole thing yesterday.  It was a bit of an oucher… but they gave us a good discount.  We’ll be visiting eight distilleries.  Hopefully, this time, I won’t get norovirus like I did at the end of our first Scottish whisky cruise in 2016 (which, by the way, I think I picked up at a tasting off the ship).

This may be our last Scottish cruise for awhile, because I am really wanting to see some other parts of Europe.  We’ve been here for several years now, but the first time we lived in Germany, we made an effort to see more of the continent.  This time, we’ve stayed pretty close to Germany, with trips to Italy, France, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands.  I’d like to visit Spain, Scandinavia, and more parts of eastern Europe.  I’ve been trying to do a real trip to Croatia for years.

Here’s a video about this awesome ship that started out as a car ferry in 1964, and for the past 30 years, has been the ultimate luxury experience.  Queen Elizabeth II and her family have sailed twice!

Prayers that this time, nothing bad will happen… I will come home healthy.  Bill will be healthy.  The dogs will be healthy.  And we won’t be too broke or inconvenienced!


SeaDream Yacht Club drops a bombshell…

Recently, SeaDream Yacht Club has been teasing its prior passengers with promises of “big news”.  Even though our last SeaDream cruise was in May 2013, I still really like this cruise line and would love to sail them again… soon, if possible.  Although I haven’t signed up for an upcoming cruise yet, I did sign up to get the big news.  Just a little while ago, I got the email with the latest scoop.

Ever since its inception, SeaDream has had two ships– SeaDream I and SeaDream II.  They are identical, except SeaDream I was built in 1984 and SeaDream II was built in 1985.  They used to be called Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II.  For years, there have been rumors swirling about a new vessel.  In fact, in 2013, during our last cruise, the cruise director had dinner with Bill and me and told us about plans for a new ship.  But then, that guy ended up quitting his job just a few weeks later.

Well, as of today, we know SeaDream will have a new vessel called Innovation which will allow SeaDream to add over 200 ports around the world, to include polar regions.  The new ship will have three marinas, a seaplane, and its own helicopter.  The staterooms will also all have balconies.  At this point, they’re saying the ship will be ready by September 2021.  I hope to do another SeaDream cruise before then, if time and finances allow.

Since Bill left the Army and has been establishing his new career as a contractor, the opportunity to take a SeaDream cruise has eluded us.  We have been fortunate enough to take Hebridean cruises in Scotland and, in fact, I actually prefer Hebridean in some ways.  However, SeaDream was our introduction to small ship cruising and they go to places Hebridean can’t.  SeaDream has things Hebridean Princess doesn’t have, like a piano bar and a marina… and a pool and Thai spa.  Plus, the clientele is a bit different, although not necessarily better or worse.  I’ve met a few celebrities on SeaDream, while on Hebridean, it’s more likely to meet very wealthy British people.

Computerized screenshot of the new vessel.

So this is exciting news, although I highly doubt any voyages on the Innovation will be in our price range.  SeaDream cruises are very expensive and they annoyingly add port taxes after the already high fare.  I like the way Hebridean does things.  You pay a huge fare, but it’s truly all inclusive.  Once you pay, you don’t have to worry about anything else, except whatever you might buy in their tiny gift shop.

So far, we’ve done three SeaDream cruises.  Our first, in April 2010, was San Juan, Puerto Rico to St. Thomas, USVI.  It was just five nights and cheap, especially for SeaDream.  I think I booked a guaranty fare for $1599 a person.  The second was in November 2011, St. John, Antigua to Bridgetown, Barbados.  And the third was in May 2013, Rome, Italy to Athens, Greece, with a passage through the Corinth Canal.

I had my eye on a voyage happening this summer, but Bill didn’t want me to book it.  Now I realize I probably should have gone ahead and booked it.  Especially now… because I really, REALLY need a real vacation.  

I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for Innovation’s fares.  I might just laugh at them for awhile as I dream.

One of my favorite SeaDream memories.

My beloved SeaDream I caught on fire a few weeks ago…

And now I’m not so sure I’ll ever get on the ship again.

The fire happened at about 2:00am on September 1st in Italy, off the coast of Calabria in the southern part of the country.  It was in the engine room.  105 passengers and 61 crew members were aboard and they weren’t evacuated until the afternoon of the 2nd, perhaps twelve hours after the fire was extinguished.

I’ve been on SeaDream I three times.  The first time was in the Caribbean in April 2010 and it was my very first taste of luxury cruising.  I fell in love hard and fast, even though I got pretty seasick.  The second time was in the southern Caribbean in November 2011, in honor of our 9th wedding anniversary.  That cruise was also magical, though maybe not quite as much so as the first had been.  The third time was in Greece and Italy in 2013.  I would say that was the best of the three SeaDream cruises we’ve done, but we were not moved to pre-book another one.  With that, we lost momentum and haven’t yet been back, though I have been shopping for possibilities.  I haven’t been on SeaDream II yet, but it’s pretty much an identical ship.

We took a Hebridean cruise this year because we live in Germany and it’s somewhat convenient to get to Scotland from here.  They had a whisky themed cruise that I found easy to convince Bill to book.  They also gave us discounts that amounted to 15% off the fare.  We’re doing another Hebridean cruise next year, because it’s going to Northern Ireland, a place neither of us has ever been and, again, it was something we could afford.  Hopefully, we will still be in Germany at the time it sails, just under a year from now.

In any case, SeaDream I’s fire has really messed things up for a number of people.  Because SeaDream I is currently out of commission, there’s only one ship operating.  A decision was made to replace one of SeaDream II’s upcoming cruises with an itinerary from SeaDream I’s.  That means that people who were booked on SeaDream II are being bumped, mainly due to a large charter.

Now… while I totally understand why SeaDream made the decision it did– purely for business– I can’t help but think I’d be pretty devastated if I were planning to be on SeaDream II’s cruise and got bumped at the last minute.  This situation is one reason why I ALWAYS get travel insurance when I book a cruise.  It generally costs at least five figures to sail on SeaDream.  A last minute change like this, even though it’s due to a fire, can really result in the loss of a lot of money.  It’s also kind of heartbreaking.  I always look forward to my cruises with SeaDream and I would be crushed by a sudden cancellation.

As for the hapless passengers who were on the ship when it caught fire, it sounds like they went through quite a scary ordeal.  They were on the disabled ship for about twelve hours before they were removed.  Given that it was an emergency situation, I doubt the prosecco was flowing… but who knows?

I will admit that another reason why I hesitate to book SeaDream again is that I’ve been overdosing on Below Deck, Bravo TV’s show about crews on luxury charter yachts.  It’s kind of spoiled the mystique for me, because it’s very clear that what they do is all about getting a big tip.  SeaDream has a loosely enforced no tipping policy, but Hebridean’s policy is very strict.  They explain that tipping can lead to embarrassment, so it’s not allowed at all.  I have no problem with tipping, as long as I know what to expect ahead of time and can be prepared.  On SeaDream, it’s not expected or required, but people do it anyway– or they contribute to the “crew fund”.  I prefer to just pay a lot ahead of time and not have to worry about it.

So… anyway, I think if we try a different cruise line, it may be time to give Seabourn a chance.  Or maybe we’ll try Azamara, where apparently a lot of former SeaDream crew members have gone.  I have a friend I met on a SeaDream cruise who has defected to Azamara.  On the other hand, both of those options mean bigger crowds on the ship.  But they also mean nicer staterooms and, perhaps, more to do than drinking and sunbathing!  We also really want to try barge cruising or maybe even a river cruise, although river cruises might be a little too geriatric for us at this point.

We’ll see.  There are so many great cruises to choose from, we really can’t go wrong…

Captured on SeaDream I…  Amalfi coast of Italy.

And an enchanting shot off of Hebridean…  leaving Tarbert Castle.


Part 2… Arrival in Glasgow and meeting up with the Princess!

Bill and I flew out of Stuttgart at about noon on March 14th.  We dropped off our dogs, Zane and Arran, with Max at Dog On Holiday, and had pleasant flights from Stuttgart to Amsterdam to Glasgow.  I was feeling hopeful when I saw the sun out in Glasgow.  On our first trip to Scotland, we were greeted by dismal weather.  It was dark and stormy that November day.  This time, we had almost balmy temperatures and the sun was shining.  I had needed a heavy coat in Stuttgart, but could walk around with no jacket on in Glasgow.

I cracked a smile when I saw the guy directing the taxi stand.  He was wearing a pair of tartan trousers.  I am a sucker for tartans, even though I have yet to invest in a stole of my own.  I would love to see Bill in a kilt, especially if he wears it properly… but he’s mostly Irish, so he balks at the idea of having one made.  One of these days, I’ll get him to pull the trigger.  Hopefully, it won’t be aimed at my head.

We reached the Carlton George Hotel by mid afternoon, deposited our bags, and enjoyed some of the free booze in the mini bar.  Through OpenTable, I had made us reservations at a restaurant called Alston Bar & Beef.  Bill and I both enjoy steaks and this particular restaurant also specializes in gins.  I thought maybe we’d have a couple of gin cocktails, but Bill decided he preferred wine.  We enjoyed a lovely dinner there, with a round of cocktails and a bottle of wine.  We also had dessert… the first of many over the following week.

Bill was fretting a bit because he’d been dieting to get into his dress blues.  Our cruise had two gala nights that involved formal wear.  Bill retired in 2014, so PT tests are now a thing of the past.  He had put on a little weight, but was able to squeeze into the uniform.  I could tell he was working hard not to eat too much steak on our first night in Scotland.

I won’t say too much about the Carlton George in this particular post because I intend to write a review.  For now, I will say we enjoyed a very comfortable evening there.  The hotel is located very close to the main shopping drag in Glasgow and is near Glasgow Central Train Station.  We were due to meet representatives from the ship and our fellow passengers at 3:15pm on March 15th.

Breakfast was not included in our rate, so we decided to eat out on the town.  Again, through OpenTable, I found a very cool bar close to the hotel called the 158 Cafe Bar at Hutcheson’s.  I made us reservations for 9:00am and we both enjoyed a lovely breakfast on our first morning in Scotland.  It would be the first of many sumptuous meals we enjoyed this week.

A yummy mocha…
Eggs Benedict…
Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon…

Once checkout time came around, we hauled our bags to the train station and sat in a bar, where we had a light lunch and enjoyed lots of beer.  It so happened the bar we were enjoying was slated to close that Sunday.  Consequently, they didn’t have a very good selection of suds.  I didn’t mind too much, though, because the location was perfect for watching the train station.  It wasn’t long before we saw the folks from the Hebridean show up, ready to welcome a new round of passengers onboard.

An excellent vantage point for spotting people from the ship.

Hebridean Princess hires guides for its cruises.  They usually change each week and have special interests in the different cruise themes.  The week we were on the ship, our guide was John Harbour.  He was very easy to spot.  Every day, he wore a kilt with a matching tie and v neck sweater.  He’s very tall and distinguished and a proud Scotsman.  When we showed up with our passel of bags, he commented that we hadn’t packed light.  I explained that Bill had brought his uniform.  Then John told us that he had served in the Royal Navy for over thirty years.  He now has his own tour guide business and has been on Princess five times.  Prior to our whisky trip, John had been visiting India.  I knew he and Bill would have plenty to talk about during our trip.

When all of the passengers who were planning to be collected at the train station had arrived, John and the bartender, Egon from the Czech Republic, loaded us into the bus and we headed to the airport to pick up more people.  Thanks to all the beer I drank at the bar in the train station, I had a strong urge to answer the call of nature.  Fortunately, the bus had a toilet.  It also had seatbelts, with John incessantly reminded us to use every time we got on the bus!

We arrived at the Greenock pier by about five o’clock.  After a quick security check, we were each piped aboard the Hebridean Princess.  A young kilted lad stood outside the terminal with his pipes and played for everyone as they made their way to the ship.  I managed to get a very quick film of him playing.

The woman who ended up being our waitress showed us to Loch Crinan, our stateroom on the Hebridean deck.  The Hebridean deck is where the cheapest rooms are.  They have no windows and only a shower.  However, despite being the least expensive of the rooms on Hebridean Princess, they are still very comfortable.  A small bottle of whisky sat on the credenza over a stocked minibar that included water, soda, and fruit juice.  The bathroom was outfitted with Molton Brown toiletries and very thick, luxurious towels on a towel warmer.

The bed in Loch Crinan.
The bathroom.

We were asked to unpack our bags and set them outside so they could be stowed.  Then, we were welcome to make our way to the Tiree Lounge for welcome drinks and the muster drill.  The first night, dinner dress would be casual and we would learn about the many distilleries we would be visiting during our week on the Princess.  By the end of the week, we would know how whisky is made and the differences between the different whisky making regions around Scotland.

The very friendly and warm staff, mostly made up of Scots and folks from Latvia and Lithuania, made sure to make us feel at home.  After I made the steep climb back up to the Tiree Lounge, Egon the bartender handed me the first of many glasses of champagne.

Bill suits up for the safety drill.
Just as the sun was beginning to set…
advice, England, Scotland, United Kingdom

Ten things I learned in Scotland and England…

We’re home at last!  And boy, did we have ourselves an eventful trip!  Since we were gone for almost two weeks and a lot happened, I’m going to do something now that I usually do after I write up my vacations.  I’m going to type a list of ten things I learned on our most recent trip to Scotland and England.  I’m doing that now because I know some readers would prefer a quick and dirty recap and I have a feeling this trip report will consist of many moving parts.

Even though Bill and I have been to England and Scotland before– and I even lived in England at one time in my life– we always learn new things when we travel.  And this trip taught us some truly surprising things.  We spent the first week on a whisky cruise on Hebridean Princess in Scotland.  The cruise focused on visits to whisky distilleries, though we also had a few non boozy excursions.   Next, we went to England and caught Avenue Q in Stoke on Trent and visited my old stomping grounds near Mildenhall Air Force Base.  We had an unforgettable trip that I’m itching to share with everyone.  So here goes.

10.  Apparently, Scotland has its own money.  Yes, it’s true.  Even though Scotland voted to remain a member of the United Kingdom, more than once, we ran into problems when we tried to use Scottish bills in England.  In fact, this morning Bill tried to pay a fee at the Norwich airport with a Scottish note and it didn’t work!  He quipped that he’d have to find a “non-Confederate” note.  But, just so you know, Scottish money is legal tender in England.  It’s just that they don’t seem to see it that much or something.

9.  Driving on the left isn’t so hard.  Bill was very nervous about trying to drive in the United Kingdom.  As it turned out, it wasn’t bad at all.  We had visions of Clark Griswold style driving mishaps when we first considered driving in the UK, but Bill did just fine!  And now he has a new skill to brag about.

We did not have any encounters with Eric Idle in England.


8.  There are many roundabouts in England… more than there are in Germany.  Fortunately, none we encountered were as bad as this one.

I heard there’s a really scary one in Swindon, though…


7.  My old house in England still looks the same as it did in 1978.  We drove to Mildenhall Air Force Base, which is where my dad did his very last assignment as an Air Force lieutenant colonel.  I was almost six years old when we left England, so it’s where my earliest memories come from.  Very surprisingly, it was easy to find the housing area where I once lived and the house my family lived in.  I sent a photo to my much older sisters who confirmed that I got it right.

6.  But Mildenhall itself is very different…  There are some things around the base that are the same, but I was very shocked by how many more people are there and how much housing there is.  Also, I was surprised by the traffic!  Forty years ago, Mildenhall was surrounded by small towns and lots of open space.  Not so, now.

5.  The story my mom told me about the street named after my dad was not bullshit…  And I will write an updated post about that eventually to explain everything.  Suffice to say, I found the street supposedly named after my dad and having seen it and noted where it is, I believe my mom’s tale was truthful.

4.  It’s not a good idea to drink from the same cup, especially among strangers.   Even though I am supposedly “overeducated” with master’s degrees in social work and public health, sometimes I still do really stupid things.  I did something dumb on this trip and ended up in deep doo doo.  On a related note, toilets in the UK are kind of weird.  It takes practice to be able to flush them effectively.

3.  Scotland is as beautiful in March as it is in November…  I managed to get some gorgeous photos on this trip.  I also got lots of video, which I hope to turn into a new YouTube film.  I will be busy for the next couple of weeks!

2.  Haggis can be delicious!  I don’t remember liking haggis that much the first time I tried it, but this last time, I thought it was very tasty.  That was quite a surprise for me.  I don’t know if it was because of the chefs on Hebridean Princess or just because of my Scottish ancestry.  😉  Having written that, I think haggis will be one of those dishes I sample only when I am in Scotland among people in kilts and surrounded by whisky.

1.  A cruise on Hebridean Princess is a marvelous, yet expensive way to see Scotland.  Okay, I knew that already, but it was reaffirmed on this last trip, even though I got hit with a stomach bug on the last day.  I will explain more about what happened as I blog… or, for those who have strong stomachs and high curiosity, there is a rather graphic account on my main blog.  I promise to keep the account on this blog more or less PG rated.

Anchors Aweigh!

Now, on with my trip report!


A little while ago, my dogs announced the mail…

And in the mail was a final bill for our upcoming Hebridean cruise.  In July, we paid a $1600 deposit.  We now have $4800 left to pay for our Spirit of Scotland cruise in mid March.

It’s funny, because we were just talking about the cruise last night.  It sounds like it’s very expensive, but we actually got a really good deal.  We took advantage of a sale being offered and, for some reason, it was cheaper to pay in pounds.  Also, when you sail on Hebridean, absolutely EVERYTHING is included, unless you buy something from the gift shop.  Once you pay your fare, that’s it.  They don’t even ask you for a credit card when you board.

Booze is included.  Excursions are included.  Entry fees to museums and parks are included.  There is no tipping at all.  Transportation is also included.  So yeah… it seems like a lot of money, but having sailed with them before, I know it’s worth it.  And there are only 49 or 50 people sailing at a time.

Still… for many years, the idea of us doing a cruise this expensive was out of the question.  It hurts to drop four figures on a vacation.  And I still need dental implant surgery.  So yeah…  ouch.

But this is so worth the money…  I can’t wait.  Scotland is one of my favorite places in the world.


We’re going back to Scotland… why we’re doing another Hebridean cruise

Hebridean Princess.

I already announced this on my main blog, which tends to get more readers than this one does.  It’s mainly because I am a bit rawer on my main blog than I am here, where I try to be somewhat genteel.   Today’s post will be somewhat less genteel.  I’m writing it because I want to convey why I think Hebridean may be the best cruise line ever.  If you can afford it, that is.

Bill and I took our first cruise(s) on Hebridean Princess back in November 2012.  It was in honor of our 10th wedding anniversary.  Originally, I had planned to take one five night cruise, but then it occurred to me that we could take a second five night cruise with little overlap of ports.  They were the last two cruises of Hebridean’s 2012 season and they were relatively inexpensive.  Each five night segment was priced at $1960 for the lowest priced cabins.  If we booked another cruise, we’d get a 5% discount.  I told Bill that if we left after the first cruise, we’d be traveling during the busy Thanksgiving rush.  Moreover, I wasn’t sure when we’d ever be back to Scotland.  That was before we ever knew we’d be back in Germany.

Fortunately, Bill agreed.  We made the booking and went off to Scotland in mid November 2012, not knowing that our sweet dog, MacGregor, was suffering from cancer.  Unbeknownst to us, he had a malignant tumor in his spinal column.  We had him on prednisone because he’d been having some problems with walking.  Our vet thought it was arthritis and/or disc disease.  She had instructed us to wean him off the drug, but that coincided with our trip.  We asked the people at the boarding facility to do it for us.

We had a wonderful trip to Scotland.  We went to Glasgow first, spent two nights there, then got on the very small vessel, which was originally a car ferry.  Hebridean Princess only handles 49 people at a time and is special enough that Queen Elizabeth II has chartered it twice.  Prior to cruising on Hebridean Princess, we had been on SeaDream I twice.  I thought that was an amazing experience.  I had no idea.  After ten nights on Hebridean, my mind was changed.  I still love SeaDream, but it is no longer #1 to me.

Anyway, our Scottish cruise was insanely awesome.  Once we boarded the ship, we were completely taken care of.  They didn’t even ask us for a credit card.  The service was just impeccable.

While we were cruising, MacGregor was having some problems.  The people at the North Carolina boarding facility where he was staying took very good care of him, but he really had trouble when he went off the prednisone.  One day, he just up and collapsed.  The folks at the kennel had to take him to our vet.  They were in constant communication with us, which was frustrating because there was nothing we could do from thousands of miles away other than worry.  At one point, the kennel manager sent us a letter from our vet advising that we put MacGregor out of his misery before we came home.  Naturally, that was devastating news to us, especially since we thought he had arthritis.

On the last night of our wonderful cruise, there was a gala event.  Bill and I were dressed to the nines, but I was very upset about the dog.  Bill had called the vet in North Carolina, who told us that MacGregor wasn’t on the edge of dying or anything, but he was in pain.  We told him to keep MacGregor comfortable as best he could.  We would get back after a few nights in Edinburgh and have him checked out.  We eventually took him to NC State, where an MRI was done.  That was when we found out he had cancer– up until that point, we had several vets arguing about what was wrong with MacGregor and we didn’t know who to believe.

The Hebridean staff was wonderful as we were dealing with all of this stuff.  But what was really awesome was what happened later on the last night on the ship.  It was the last night of their season.  After throwing up when I heard about MacGregor and before the haggis, I suddenly realized that Aunt Flow had come to visit me.  Somehow, I had come onboard completely unprepared.  I had remembered everything else we needed on our trip.  But I had forgotten to pack maxi pads.


I was very upset about everything that was going on: my dog ailing in North Carolina, vomiting, and now, an unexpected visit from Aunt Flow.  So Bill, being the wonderful guy he was, grabbed the assistant purser, a lovely Latvian lady named Valeria.  He said, “I need your help.”  She looked at him expectantly as he said, “Jenny just started.”

That was all he needed to say.

Valeria said, “I can’t promise I’ll get the best selection, but I’ll knock on your door…”

Ten minutes later, Valeria discreetly presented Bill with a bag of feminine hygiene products she’d collected from other staff members.  While I am sure this problem has come up before, I doubt it happens often.  On our first cruise, I was the youngest one onboard at age 40.  The second one included a couple of younger women, but for the most part, people on Princess tend to be silver haired and well past their childbearing years.  Valeria handled the situation like a champ.

I had enough supplies to get me through the night.  The next morning, the purser gave me a hug and wished us well.  I was later able to get the products I needed (and I have never made that mistake again).  We got back to North Carolina a few days later and took care of MacGregor until we sent him to the Rainbow Bridge on December 18, 2012, after we learned of what was really ailing him.

A month later, we adopted Arran.  We named him after one of the beautiful islands we visited in Scotland.  He remains a wonderful companion, though I just found out last week that he had a cancerous mast cell tumor (which was hopefully entirely removed).  I only hope when we get on Princess in March, he’ll still be just fine.

My MacGregor memorial…

Scotland video…  which is a little less emotional.

Anyway, with service like that, I knew we had to sail Hebridean Princess again, especially after mom raved about it last week.  I can hardly wait.  And I am hoping that this time, we have no sick dogs or menstrual catastrophes.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Mom’s visit part one…

My mom has spent the last couple of weeks aboard the Royal Crown, a river boat leased by Hebridean Island Cruises during the summer.  She decided to take that all inclusive luxury cruise last year after asking me for advice on cruising.  Originally, she had considered a Viking cruise, but she reconsidered when I told her about the amazing time Bill and I had when we were on Hebridean Princess in November 2012.  It’s a very luxurious, civilized, British experience.  Once you pay your fare, you don’t have to worry about anything else.  There’s no tipping and the bar is open.  It’s one cruise that is truly all inclusive.  I also knew my mom loves Britain, so I recommended Royal Crown.  Originally, I wanted to join her, but we had a few too many major expenses this year (including the dental work I still need).  Hebridean cruises are wonderful, but they are very expensive.

Mom’s trip included two back to back cruises on Royal Crown, as well as a few days in England, where she met up with my dad’s former secretary from Mildenhall Air Force Base.  Then she flew with all the rest of the folks on the first cruise to Basel, Switzerland.  The focus was on wine.  They boarded the boat and traveled to Strasbourg, France, Cologne, Germany, Bamberg, Wurzburg, Koblenz, and Nuremberg.  In Nuremberg, a new cruise started with a music focus.  They went to Regensberg, Passau, Linz, Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest.  Mom didn’t take any photos and says a lot of it is still a blur.  But she had a great time and made some new British friends.  She was the only American on the boat.  I expected that, since when Bill and I were on Princess, we were the only Americans on our first cruise and one of two American couples on the second.  Also, Hebridean tends to cater to older folks and single travelers.  On our first cruise, I was the youngest passenger at age 40!  Mom fit right in.

We picked up my mother on Saturday after she flew to Stuttgart from Budapest.  It was her first time in Budapest and she stayed at the Corinthia Hotel, which is where Bill and I stayed in September 2009.  We knew it’s a wonderful place to stay and mom concurred.  If you like five star luxury, you can’t go wrong at the Corinthia.

I hadn’t seen my mom since Thanksgiving 2014, when Bill and I went to Virginia to celebrate the holiday and say goodbye to my dad, who died in July 2014.  We had a memorial service for him at Thanksgiving so more family could attend.  Last August, right after my dad died, my mom discovered that she had breast cancer.  She had a breast removed, but then seemed to bounce back effortlessly.

We took her by the Auld Rogue in Vaihingen on the way home because I was really getting hangry.  She enjoyed their pulled pork sandwich special, but had to take most of it with her.  This is sort of her first time in Germany.  Though my dad was in the Air Force, they were never stationed here, nor did they ever visit here on one of their many trips.  She had wanted to visit me the last time we lived here, but my dad became very ill with dementia and she spent the next few years taking care of him.  I think this last year has been liberating for her, even if she misses him sometimes.

She met my dogs, Zane and Arran, for the first time on Saturday…

Zane took to her right away…

My mom is a big dog lover, but hasn’t had one since 2001, when our dog Ginger died.  I used to be able to share the dogs with her when we lived in Virginia, but the past few years have been pretty hectic move wise.

Yesterday, we had a nice peaceful morning and afternoon.  Mom sat out on the patio with a book and enjoyed the typically quiet German Sunday.  Then, we went to Tuebingen, where mom got to see one of our favorite medieval German college towns.  She experienced her first biergarten.

Mom tries a radler.  She is not a beer fan, but she seemed to enjoy this… And she tried my hefeweizen and said it tasted better than most beers do.  I think her problem is that my dad drank a lot of cheap mass produced Anheuser-Busch beers that tasted like crap.

While we were at the Neckarmuller, we watched people punting, swimming, and even sailing.  One group of Germans was especially entertaining…

I love a good musical interlude.  We also passed a group playing strings near the cathedral and a trio of women who were singing together as they walked.  Made me very proud to be here with my very musical mom.


After some beer and people watching, we walked through the park on the other side of the Neckarmuller.  One group of folks was barbecuing on their boat while in the river.  I love hanging out in Tuebingen, because there is never a shortage of people to watch.  And on the river, they usually put on a good show.  Especially if there’s a good hen party.

Another group got caught in some low hanging branches.

The tunnel on the way back to the car.

We passed this “cloud” on the way…

There is a sister exhibit in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Cool!  Even if it did remind me a little of a loogy.

Swimmers…  might have to join them someday.

This may have been the first sailboat I’ve ever seen in Tuebingen.

A party boat…

I think we’re going to go to Nagold today, though I’m also hoping to visit a place or two I haven’t yet blogged about.  I definitely want to try a different restaurant.  Bill has taken off until Wednesday to help me entertain my mom until she flies back to the States.